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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999 Feb 16;96(4):1536-40.

T cell receptor gene deletion circles identify recent thymic emigrants in the peripheral T cell pool.

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Division of Developmental and Clinical Immunology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294-3300, USA.


Progenitor cells undergo T cell receptor (TCR) gene rearrangements during their intrathymic differentiation to become T cells. Rearrangements of the variable (V), diversity (D), and joining (J) segments of the TCR genes result in deletion of the intervening chromosomal DNA and the formation of circular episomes as a byproduct. Detection of these extrachromosomal excision circles in T cells located in the peripheral lymphoid tissues has been viewed as evidence for the existence of extrathymic T cell generation. Because all of the T cells in chickens apparently are generated in the thymus, we have employed this avian model to determine the fate of the V(D)J deletion circles. In normal animals we identified TCR Vgamma-Jgamma and Vbeta-Dbeta deletion circles in the blood, spleen, and intestines, as well as in the thymus. Thymectomy resulted in the gradual loss of these DNA deletion circles in all of the peripheral lymphoid tissues. A quantitative PCR analysis of Vgamma1-Jgamma1 and Vbeta1-Dbeta deletion circles in splenic gamma delta and Vbeta1(+) alphabeta T cells indicated that their numbers progressively decline after thymectomy with a half-life of approximately 2 weeks. Although TCR deletion circles therefore cannot be regarded as reliable indicators of in situ V(D)J rearrangement, measuring their levels in peripheral T cell samples can provide a valuable index of newly generated T cells entering the T cell pool.

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